• This Aotearoa-based youth development arotake tuhinga (literature review) attempts to address critiques of the YDSA and its accompanying literature review, Building Strengths, (2002) particularly with respect to their Western orientation. To ensure kaupapa Māori was integral to this work, we created a framework based on concepts discussed in Māori models of youth development. The scope, structure, and focus of this arotake (review) was guided by research-engaged “critical friends” who were consulted in the process.
  • This arotake is only one component of the activities that form a broader review of the YDSA. It encompassed Te Ao Māori (Māori world) through the use of te reo Māori and Māori frameworks; Kaimahi (workers) through an online survey and regional consultations with young people and people who work with young people across the country with additional hui for Māori practitioners; Taiohi (young people) through two focus groups; one for young people and one for Pacific Island youth practitioners and young people; and a survey on young people’s perceptions of wellbeing; and Mātauranga through this arotake and an evidence review of the youth development landscape.
  • Six Māori concepts provide the organising frames for the youth development literature we reviewed. Each is described in relation to the six existing principles of the YDSA although they do not directly correlate in each case. They are Whakapapa (interconnectedness through time and space); Mauri (one’s inherent potential and life spark); Mana (one’s inherent authority and integrity); Manaakitanga (generosity and care for collective wellbeing); Whanaungatanga (relationship building and connection); and Mātauranga (knowledges).
  • We have come a long way in the past 17 years with respect to producing youth development research. Research about and with young people in Aotearoa New Zealand has burgeoned. It is rich, diverse, and exciting. We have benefitted from large-scale quantitative, qualitative and mixed methods projects, theoretical and conceptual articles, books, and numerous theses from multiple disciplines, all forms of which were considered in this arotake. Given such a range, we limited the scope of this arotake to Aotearoa research published from 2002 onwards that was focused on young people aged 12–24 years and their development or wellbeing. A “living” bibliography of research we identified will be housed on Ara Taiohi’s website and additional research can be added.

Review Insights

  • There is much to celebrate regarding the young people in this country. Research demonstrates that the majority are healthy, happy and well adjusted. Most young people report having positive relationships in their lives and positive aspirations for their future. We have also seen many improvements in their health and wellbeing over the past 17 years, including substantial reductions in risk taking behaviour.
  • Aotearoa New Zealand is becoming increasingly diverse, as evidenced by growing Māori, Pasifika and Asian youth populations. There has also been growth in the number of young people who identify with more than one ethnicity. Young people in Aotearoa New Zealand deftly navigate their multiple identities and cultural worlds. Young people’s ethnic identities (both in traditional and contemporary form) are a common source of pride and having a positive ethnic identity is an important contributor to their wellbeing. At the same time, young people with stigmatised ethnic identities are all too aware of the negative stereotypes that pervade their lives and this hampers their developmental outcomes.
  • Young people in Aotearoa New Zealand face too many systemic risks and violations of their human rights. The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC) demands more from us, and the cumulative effects of not addressing the issues raised by advocacy groups are beginning to show. Too many young people in New Zealand are not getting their basic needs met. Too many young people are also marginalised based on their ethnic, religious, sexual, gender, and ability identities. They exhibit many strengths, but are too often the targets of hostility, harm, and more insidious forms of prejudice and discrimination. The neoliberal policies of the 1980s have exacerbated the inequities created by colonisation, the effects of which continue to be felt by young people. Marginalised young people struggle to access the resources and opportunities needed to thrive and they suffer from poorer emotional health and wellbeing. The difficulties compound when young people have multiple, intersecting marginalised identities.
  • Robust research on the developmental experiences of Asian, migrant and refugee, rural, and Rainbow young people, and young people with disabilities is scarce in New Zealand, particularly research which privileges their voices and investigates the experiences and impact of having intersecting, marginalised identities.
  • The digital world is evidently becoming a space where young people spend a lot of their time. This is a site for a wide array of positive and negative developmental experiences and one that has fundamentally changed young people’s lives but the consequences of this remain largely unknown. The generational digital divide needs to be bridged because many adults do not have a good understanding of what young people do online nor how to support them. This provides major opportunities for innovative research where young people, as the digital natives and experts, should be supported to lead.
  • In many ways, young people in New Zealand are prevented from full citizenship participation despite largely inaccurate lamentations that young people today are apathetic. Civic disengagement is influenced by inaccessible opportunities and information about civic processes, and narrow conceptualisations about what counts as civic engagement. Many young people ultimately want a kinder, fairer world, and they want to make a difference but require support to do this. For a long time, young people have felt silenced. They have a need for agency in their lives and a right to be involved in decisions that affect them. And whilst there has been increasing attention on youth voice and youth participation over the past 17 years, organisations are still struggling to provide authentic opportunities for this. Youth participation opportunities also tend to be selective whereas they need to be available to the full spectrum of youth.
  • When young people are adequately supported to engage in authentic participation, service and leadership opportunities, they benefit. They are capable – and not just the high achievers. Adults need to relinquish some of their power and expect more of young people for authentic youth participation to be effective.
  • For taiohi (young people) who are Māori, youth development is inherently tied to Māori development where the focus of youth participation is for the benefit and wellbeing of the collective. This invokes the need for youth participation to involve cultural participation. Some notions of youth participation advanced in Western models sit in tension with traditional Māori views and do so in ways that can disrupt young people’s understanding of the kaupapa.
  • Confidence and competency development provide the foundation for agency and leadership. This is a focus of many New Zealand-based youth development programmes, where experiential learning, group cohesion and support, and skilled adult role models facilitate personal growth. Young people sharing their experiences through the programme evaluations we reviewed overwhelmingly report positive learning and development. There are, however, areas for improvement where the most common themes highlighted the importance of cultural responsiveness in programming and the skills and characteristics of the people working with young people.
  • Providing accessible (financial and otherwise) and research-informed training and education for people who support young people, whether through natural or formal roles is a worthy investment. Above all, research demonstrates that it is the people who walk alongside young people who have a fundamental influence on their developmental journey. The relationships young people have with the important people in their lives, particularly with whānau/family, are the primary nurturing sources of their development, but can also be the sources of strife.
  • The school context is, unfortunately, a common site for the latter, particularly for marginalised young people and this sits in contrast with their experiences in youth programmes and community- based activities. Sense of belonging is a vital nutrient for positive youth development and it is not only the people but the climate of the places young people inhabit that matter in this regard.
  • For some young people, youth workers are the allies and connecting agents in their lives. Despite major advances in the youth development sector (led in important ways by Ara Taiohi over the past decade), resource constraints have negatively influenced work conditions for youth workers for far too long. Passion goes a long way but meagre resourcing, time pressures and poor pay impinge on the quality of their work and their own wellbeing.
  • To date, Western, deficit-based psychological and neuroscientific knowledge has been privileged in policy and public discourse about youth development. Robust research is critical to raising awareness and developing strategies to best support the positive development of all young people in Aotearoa New Zealand,
    whether through policy or practice. These goals are better served by drawing on multidisciplinary, multi-method and multicultural research that incorporates multiple stakeholder perspectives.


  • Focus on creating systemic change. Perhaps now, more than ever (given the improvements we have seen in individual risk), future thinking and policy needs to be directed at improving the environmental systems in which young people are embedded. These are where outcomes are deteriorating or stagnating and this is what young people say they want.
  • Raise critical consciousness across institutions involving young people. Changing systems in an increasingly diverse country necessitates the disruption of entrenched mindsets that privilege Western ideals over indigenous and other cultural perspectives and, inadvertently or not, perpetuates oppression.
  • Grow multidisciplinary and multimethod research on the developmental experiences of Asian, migrant and refugee, and Rainbow young people, young people with disabilities and those living in rural New Zealand. Continuing support of large-scale, research projects that provide a representative picture of their lives is critical to effective strategy development. We also need research that amplifies their voices and deepens our understanding of the impact of having intersecting, marginalised identities.
  • Following from this, develop research-informed strategies and best practice guidelines to better support marginalised young people.
  • Likewise, invest in building an evidence-base about young people in the digital world to take advantage of the beneficial opportunities it offers while mitigating the accompanying risks. Develop strategies to bridge the generational digital divide – with young people at the helm.
  • Disseminate case exemplars of authentic and effective youth participation involving diverse groups of young people with clear best practice guidelines. Support organisations to make changes that will enable more frequent, widespread and genuine youth participation practices.
  • Invest resources in creating positive organisational, school, and family climates for young people. Invest in the people who support young people within these contexts. Young people thrive when their surrounding environments are affirming, safe and resource rich. This requires accessible, culturally responsive, and research-informed training, education, and ongoing support. Developing people who support young people to embrace an authentic Aotearoa-flavoured youth development approach and to evaluate their efforts is critical to advancing the wellbeing of young people in this country.
  • Recognise, value and invest in youth development approaches informed first by home-grown Māori youth development models in concert with Western approaches – approaches that 1) affirm young people’s mauri, 2) enhances their mana, 3) are characterised by manaakitanga, 4) facilitate whanaungatanga, 5) remain mindful of young people’s whakapapa, and 6) are informed by rich and diverse mātauranga. Follow through with the original vision of the YDSA by keeping the refreshed version of the YDSA visible across policy platforms, advocating for its use in guiding practice in all public sector organisations, and promoting engagement with it by others walking alongside young people.